You, darkness, of whom I am born —
I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.
But the darkness embraces everything:
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations — just as they are.
It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.
I believe in the night.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Book of Hours
translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Burrows
Hello darkness, my old friend.
On this day of winter solstice, let us celebrate darkness. The darkness of deep interior life, emotions that do not find expression in small talk, images not likely to be found on Facebook. The darkness of not knowing the way forward, the darkness of sitting in stillness and simply noticing what is.
It is only in the last couple of years that I have willingly explored the darkness with wonder. It began with an invitation from a coach, someone I trusted, to point out that I was only living a portion of life, that there was so much more depth to learn and draw from if I allowed myself to explore the shadow side of life and my full range of emotions.
In a different translation of Rilke’s poem by David Whyte, the next-to-last stanza reads:
and it is possible: its great strength
is breaking into my body.
Though I love the full translation up top, Whyte’s rendering of this section resonates more for me; I feel darkness inside me, like an expanding universe, more than as “a great presence stirring beside me.”
So, though we often celebrate the return of longer light on this day, today I honor darkness – for the depth, fullness, and dimension it brings to our lives; for the contrast of shadow and light, for the not-knowing and mystery it represents.
Entering into darkness is not an invitation to wallow in negativity, which I see as complaint, judgement, comparison, and expectation - but rather a noticing and allowing. “This too,” as one of my meditation teachers says. Anger, sadness, confusion, trepidation? Yes - this too.
* * *
At this time of reflection, it also feels appropriate to offer an update on the first four months of existence for Only to Grow. First and foremost, I want to say THANK YOU. Many of you have reached out to say the blog posts on Vital Signs matter, and I am grateful that you take the time to read - and to try out practices, provide feedback or a different perspective, raise questions, connect, and enter into deeper dialogue. The far-flung virtual community the website reaches gives me strength and inspiration. In the new year, I have a goal to compile and share resources; please let me know if you have a topic to request or suggest.
The consulting aspect of Only to Grow is deeply fulfilling. My mission is to collaborate with individuals, teams, and organizations who foster positive change in the world, and that is happening! Some of the projects I’m involved in include:
helping to create a leadership development progression for school leaders, focusing on leaders of color
fostering Social Emotional Learning in a small rural community
supporting the healthy functioning and impact of a district leadership team
compiling and editing a book of short readings for EL Education
building an online course about effective facilitation of professional development
partnering with a school in New South Wales, Australia, to promote student engagement and deeper learning.
I’m happy to report that my consulting plate is currently full; that said, I would be delighted to entertain ideas about future projects if you have an idea for collaboration.
My work as a coach is growing and evolving. Coaching is where deep exploration happens. It’s a space where both I and my clients delve into questions like what meaningful contribution means, how to balance care for self and others, how to fully embody one’s power and quiet the voice of the inner critic, what it means to succeed. I’ve learned that self-awareness is the key to both impact and joy in leadership, and self-awareness is at the heart of coaching.
I’m also beginning to experiment with additional approaches to coaching. I stand by the approach I began with, which is to enter into a 4-6 month partnership grounded by a plan that names purpose, outcomes, and practices. AND, I’ve also begun offering “responsive” coaching, which means that a person brings forth a specific question or issue that has a shorter time horizon. After an initial (free) consultation to ensure we’re a good fit and talk a bit about the issue at hand, we meet for just two or three sessions. I support not by giving advice or solutions, but by asking questions and offering a handful of resources that help the client gain insight and find their way through a time of difficulty or confusion. I offer a hand in the dark.
I do have space for additional coaching clients. If you are curious or interested, reach out; I am here.
* * *
May your entry into winter be marked by the celebration of light and also by the loving embrace, the invitation of darkness.
Sit with your friends; don’t go back to sleep
Don’t sink like a fish to the bottom of the sea.
Life’s water flows from darkness.
Search the darkness, don’t run from it.
Night travelers are full of light,
and you are, too; don’t leave this companionship.